Leadership as facilitation

Across the coming few years, we’re up to big things at Regional Arts Victoria. We’ve recently launched the Small Town Transformations book as a crystallisation of a project so extraordinary that we are still in awe of its leaders in Avoca, Dookie, Natimuk, Neerim South and Ouyen. This year we will launch the project’s second iteration, and we’re putting a lot of thought into how best to guide such ambitious creativity. We’re winding down our second creative recovery project, preparing local communities across Victoria for resilient approaches to natural disaster. We’ve talked a lot to our membership this year, and we’re focused on structuring our programs and our governance to best serve the work of inspiring art across the state. With our 2016 Education & Families program launched, we’re about to reflect on five years of the Creative Leadership Program. In Performing Arts Touring we’re carefully developing a set of interventions that support great tours as well as building lasting industry connections. Registrations for Home is Where the Hall is are pouring in, as we begin to imagine yet another November marked by creative events dotting the state. And we’ve just embarked upon the three-year journey to craft a national regional arts gathering as we begin to plan ARTLANDS2018. After that – indeed, at the very moment of monumental exhale – come 2019 we will celebrate fifty years of inspiring art across the state: first as the Victorian Arts Council, and since 1999, as Regional Arts Victoria.

It’s a time of focus, energy and innovation as we actively seek out the tools and techniques that best stimulate new thinking.

To be in the best position to contribute to these big projects – and, importantly, to ensure that their impact on our organisation can be transformative – I am embarking on a deliberate reframing of my role. The next phase of my leadership will focus on facilitation.

Models of facilitation_800px

Image: Esther Anatolitis

Facilitation is endlessly, deliciously complex. It’s about cultural sensitivity. It’s about place and time. It’s about productive frameworks and constructive disruption. It’s experimental, but it’s also curatorial. It makes a commitment to everyone it welcomes, and it therefore has a strong ethical dimension to respect the commitment made by each one of those people. It is an openness, the extension of a generosity, the acknowledgement that things may go quite differently to what is expected, but that the promised guidance will remain. Structure sets you free to break boundaries without having to define them; good facilitation plans unintended consequences, ready for anything.

Models of facilitation abound, and their focused study is rare in our line of work, even though we do it all the time. Lucas Ihlein’s mindmaps. Ahmet Ögüt’s Silent University. Angharad Wynne-Jones’ Tipping Point. Kate Fielding’s social change hairdressing. Ben Fox’s open space. Maria Lind’s Tensta Konsthall. Paola Antonelli’s salons. Jade Lillie’s cultural leaders. Bek Berger, Dan Koop and Kieran Swann’s Independent Convergence. I am endlessly fascinated by confident openness: audacious provocation that remains inviting, accessible, and enabling.

Facilitation is a set of frameworks, but it is also a performance. It creates a tentative space, a suspended condition, a constructive redistribution. In the arts it’s the role of the organisation, the curator, the director, as well as the role of the advocate – and we are each of us advocates.

Like any good revolution, this is in fact an evolution of the approach we’ve taken at Regional Arts Victoria. Home is Where the Hall is, Small Town Transformations, and newly developing models such as 100 Boardrooms are explicitly facilitative. My own practice has long negotiated the complexities of structure and form. It’s consciously reflective, with regular journalling, mind-mapping and annual retreat. For Regional Arts Victoria I have led Staff Salons, Quiet Fridays and an annual three-day Creative Professional Development retreat, and as with my past organisations, I look forward to seeing these reflective practices continue to be unique to my contribution. Similarly, our General Manager Joe Toohey often remarks that the measure of success for a non-profit organisation is that it can change the world so very much for the better that it no longer needs to exist. This is a world we each make every day.

By sharing this reframing, I am making my own commitment to practice. The characterisation of my leadership is a reflection that can lead to something constructive. It aims to set the bar high, both within our organisation and beyond, for the work that I do. (I am writing this while on my annual writing retreat, nestled in a quiet café among local produce and the friendly hellos of long-familiar neighbours and traders.) I’m going to devote good time to understanding facilitation models, and testing their implementation across a variety of contexts.

So what next? Firstly, a lot of internal work. We’re pretty excited about this, even though you won’t get to see much of it – so we’ll do our best to document our processes. We have high hopes for ARTLANDS2018, and so we’re planning it as a career highlight experience of excellent facilitation for meaningful new connections for everyone who attends. When we make that gesture, and you make that commitment, you wouldn’t expect anything less.